PBS Can’t Decide About Biden’s Border Bluff: Better Than Trump or Hypocrisy?

News & Politics

President Biden’s surprise executive order to limit (on paper, anyway) the number of migrants seeking asylum on the southern border led the PBS NewsHour on Tuesday. They gave it thirteen minutes of attention, with a news story followed by an interview that alternately covered for President Biden (he’s no immigrant-hating Trump!) and chided Biden from the pro-open-borders left (though there is doubt among conservatives as to how tough Biden’s executive order truly is).

Anchor Geoff Bennett quickly attempted to inoculate the Democratic president, under pressure just five months before Election Day, by running Biden’s self-aggrandizing CYA statement separating his crackdown from anything Trump did at the border.

From there, White House reporter Laura Barrón-López talked about Biden using his “212(f) authority” to temporarily shut down asylum requests when the daily average hits 2,500. She noted possibly wide exceptions to the ban — unaccompanied children and victims of human trafficking were exempted — but did note “it’s going to impact potentially hundreds of thousands of migrants who have attempted to claim asylum between ports of entry.”

Biden received a 30-second soundbite, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus chair Nanette Diaz Barragan (D-Calif.) received another 27 seconds. PBS offered one 17-second soundbite from Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.

PBS switched to co-anchor Nawaz for the next story, a related interview with Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona, a Democratic senator who supported Biden’s decision — resulting in the novel sight of a PBS anchor challenging a Democratic politician, albeit from the left. So that’s about nine minutes of Democrat air time, and 17 seconds for the Republicans. At least Nawaz noted the political timing:

So now PBS admits Biden always had the authority to control the border? Here’s what President Biden said in January 2024: “I’ve done all I can do, just give me the power.” Now, five months before his re-election vote, he’s suddenly discovered he had the power all along. PBS consistently ignored that inconvenient fact during the February debate over the failed congressional border bill.

Nawaz followed up with Kelly with a gotcha against Biden (you know the president has angered the left when PBS does that to a Democrat): “Senator, let me ask you about what President Biden has said previously, because he did slam then-President Trump for using this exact same authority to restrict asylum years ago. Here President Biden is actually debating Mr. Trump back in 2020.”

Nawaz asked: “Senator, the question is, why should migrants today not have that right under international law and U.S. immigration law to make their case?” The government-subsidized TV network advocates for the illegal immigrants. How does that happen? Unless the Left wants to turn all these immigrants into Democrat voters down the line. On the other hand, the Democrats have been losing Latino voters to the Republicans these days.

These left-wing pro-asylum segments were brought to you in part by Cunard.

PBS NewsHour


7:02:55 p.m. (ET)

Amna Nawaz: Welcome to the “NewsHour.” President Biden signed an executive order today that temporarily blocks migrants from seeking asylum when border encounters reach a certain number.

Geoff Bennett: The president used the announcement to set himself apart from his predecessor and political rival, former President Donald Trump.

Joe Biden, President of the United States: I will never demonize immigrants. I’ll never refer to immigrants as poisoning the blood of a country.

And, further, I will never separate children from their families at the border. I will not ban people from this country because of their religious beliefs. I will not use the U.S. military to go into the neighborhoods all across the country to pull millions of people out of their homes and away from their families, to put detention camps while awaiting deportation, as my predecessor says he will do if he occupies this office again.

Geoff Bennett: Still, the move is one of the most restrictive President Biden has taken to date to crack down on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Our White House correspondent, Laura Barrón-López, joins us now.

Laura, it’s great to see you. So what does this executive order actually do?

Laura Barrón-López: President Biden said that he needed to take this action to secure the border.

And what it does is that it uses 212(f) authority, what’s known as 212(f) authority, to temporarily suspend entry. And so what that allows them to do is to — asylum requests will be shut down when daily averages hit 2,500 encounters between ports of entry.

Migrants will then be sent across the border or to their home country. And asylum requests will only reopen if the average drops below 1,500 encounters across a 14-day period.

And the ACLU has already said, Geoff, that it plans to file a legal challenge to this executive action. And so it’s headed to the courts, potentially as far as the Supreme Court.

Geoff Bennett: And this is notable, Laura, in part because President Biden ran for the office he now holds promising to make the asylum process more humane, as he put it, for migrants.

Who does this affect the most?

Laura Barrón-López: There are going to be two exceptions to this ban, which is that it will not impact unaccompanied children and it will not impact victims of human trafficking.

But, roughly, according to April numbers from CBP, daily encounters are around 5,900. And under U.S. law, migrants have the right to claim asylum not just at ports of entry, but between ports of entry.

So it’s going to impact potentially hundreds of thousands of migrants who have attempted to claim asylum between ports of entry. And immigration lawyers told me that they’re fearful that this executive action is going to force some families to separate themselves, essentially parents sending their children across the border alone, since unaccompanied minors are not going to be prohibited to seek asylum wherever they claim asylum across the border.

Geoff Bennett: The president today was flanked by some border town mayors, Democratic governors, Democratic House members.

Still, he’s getting some incoming from other Democratic members of Congress and, of course, Republicans in Congress. Give us a sense of the reaction so far.

Republicans like Senator John Cornyn of Texas accuse President Biden of playing politics with this executive action.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX): It is a shell game. It is a shell game. They are not serious about it. This is a conversion based on the proximity of the next election and sinking poll numbers. And we think it deserves to be called out for what it is.

Laura Barrón-López: Now, it’s important to note, Geoff, that Senator Cornyn was one of the Republicans that voted against that bipartisan Senate border deal that President Biden negotiated with Republicans, with one of the most conservative Republicans that there is in the Senate, Senator James Lankford.

But President Biden also received some harsh criticism from Democrats.

REP. NANETTE DIAZ BARRAGAN (D-CA): It’s not a time for us to turn to Trump era policies. It’s not time to go and use the tools that Trump used. That doesn’t make this better or OK. On the contrary, we should not be looking to those policies. It didn’t work under the prior administration and it’s not going to work today under this administration.

Laura Barrón-López: That’s Congresswoman Nanette Barragan there. She’s the chairwoman of the Hispanic Caucus. And she, along with a number of other Latino lawmakers, were not happy about this executive action.

But there were some Latino lawmakers that were present that were at the White House event today alongside the president.

Geoff Bennett: And lastly, Laura, the president said he will have more to say on this in the coming days.

Based on your reporting, what might that entail?

Laura Barrón-López: So, multiple sources told me, including some in the room, that, when President Biden met recently with leaders of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus, that they asked Biden to not implement this executive order that he did today.

They asked him to not do it, but that they said that, if he had to do it, that they wanted him to accompany it with other actions that would potentially provide relief for undocumented migrants currently in the United States.

And so I’m told that the White House is considering some actions that would impact undocumented migrants currently in the U.S. that are married to U.S. citizens. And that could protect some 700,000 to one million undocumented migrants who are married to U.S. citizens. It would give those spouses protections, allowing them to potentially get work permits. And that would take away the fear of deportation as they go along the process to get green cards.


Amna Nawaz: Senator Mark Kelly is a Democrat from the border state of Arizona. He supports the president’s move and he joins me now. Senator Kelly, welcome back to the “NewsHour.” Thanks for joining us.

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ): Well, thank you for having me on, Amna.

Amna Nawaz: Let me ask you about the president’s move today, because to take this step some three weeks before the first presidential debate, some five months before the election, when polls do show immigration is a top voting issue for many, leaves many to think that it’s a political decision and not a policy one.

As you have noted, Republicans walked away from a border deal back in February, but the president has always had this authority. So why this move now?

Sen. Mark Kelly: Well, first of all, Arizonans and folks who live in other border states deserve to have real solutions for this problem and deserve to have a border that’s under control.

It’s often been out of control. I have been in the United States Senate for about three years, and it’s really been unfair, especially to people who live close to the border. I talk to mayors and sheriffs all the time about this issue.

And we had an opportunity — and you talk about the politics behind this. We had an opportunity with bipartisan legislation negotiated by Democrats and Republicans and the White House, worked on for months. We were right up to the finish line on this legislation.

And the politics of the presidential election superseded everything, where the former President Donald Trump decided that he did not want this legislation passed and was able to get my Republican colleagues in the Senate to run away from a comprehensive piece of legislation that was going to help the Border Patrol, help CBP, help communities in Southern Arizona and other states.

I have never seen — I have never seen…

Amna Nawaz: Yes, sir. And, as I noted — pardon the interruption — this was back in February.

Sen. Mark Kelly: That is correct.

Amna Nawaz: So President Biden could have taken the facts sooner. Why now?

Sen. Mark Kelly: Well, he’s been calling on Congress for the last three-and-a-half years to do something on this issue.

We were going to have more Border Patrol agents on the border, funding for that, more CBP agents, judges to adjudicate, asylum claims, machines to detect fentanyl, changes in asylum policy. These were all very positive steps.

I spent a lot of time on the border in Arizona, and it’s very unfair, especially to the Border Patrol agents, who have — who often lose control of the situation. The president was put in a situation where he had to do this unilaterally without Congress.

But, ultimately, the solution is for Congress to come back together. I hope this can happen soon. It may have to wait until after the election, unfortunately, and have not only a border security bill, but comprehensive immigration reform that supports our economy to help us grow our economy, to provide for companies the work force they need.

Amna Nawaz: Senator, let me ask you about what President Biden has said previously, because he did slam then-President Trump for using this exact same authority to restrict asylum years ago.

Here President Biden is actually debating Mr. Trump back in 2020.

Joe Biden, President of the United States: This is the first president in the history of the United States of America that says anybody seeking asylum has to do it in another country. That’s never happened before in America. That’s never happened before in America.

You come to the United States, and you make your case.

Amna Nawaz: Senator, the question is, why should migrants today not have that right under international law and U.S. immigration law to make their case?

Sen. Mark Kelly: Well, this is different than what President Trump did. You know, this…

Amna Nawaz: It is under the same authority, though, to restrict asylum access.

Sen. Mark Kelly: Well, it’s under the same — essentially, the same federal — yes, same federal authority to put restrictions.

But this doesn’t change the ability for individuals to come here and seek asylum. What it does is, if the numbers go up to a point where it’s unmanageable, we will temporarily close the southern border for people to enter between ports of entry. They will still have the CBP-1 app to lawfully seek asylum.

That’s available today. It’s been available for some time now. So there will be pathways.

Amna Nawaz: Senator, as you know, that’s a very restricted app with very restricted access. This would essentially restrict access across the southern border for people to arrive and make an asylum claim.

Sen. Mark Kelly: It’s true. Well, I don’t agree with you that the CBP-1 app is restrictive. It may be challenging at times to get an appointment.

But the idea behind the app is, you register ahead of time, you go to a port of entry, you get an appointment for an asylum claim. People will still be able to do that.

What will happen, though, if the numbers go up above a certain average in a given week, until they go back down, we will restrict people from coming across the southern border.

Hey, we are a country of immigrants. And it’s very important to me that people can come here when they meet the requirements to have an asylum claim, that they can come to our country, especially children, people that have special needs and other issues that they’re facing in their home country. That’s important.

But what’s also important is that this is safe for Border Patrol, for CBP officers, for people who live in these southern border communities. And over time, it has not been a safe situation. It also needs to be safe for the migrants.

When Border Patrol gets overwhelmed with the number of individuals and people are waiting in the desert, essentially, with no water, no food, and Border Patrol can’t manage this, this is not good for them. We have migrants that die, that pass away in the desert. We’re trying to get operational control over the situation.

It’s unfortunate that the legislation in February did not pass. That provided Border Patrol, CBP with the tools they need to manage this. But it became political because of the former president didn’t want this issue solved. So Republicans ran away from this.

Ultimately, Amna, we need comprehensive immigration reform and we need border security.

Amna Nawaz: Senator, I have been on the Mexican side of the border during previous times of border restrictions and seen families who then have to decide whether or not they will decide to send their kids alone, because, obviously, unaccompanied minors still do get access.

Are you at all worried this is going to fuel another potential crisis of children arriving alone at the U.S. border?

Sen. Mark Kelly: Of course I’m worried. I mean, we don’t want to see kids winding up in a situation where, in Mexico, they’re separated from their parents. That’s not the goal here.

I was speaking to the — Ali Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security, today about this. And as we roll out these changes in policy, what we expect to see is the number of individuals that are entering our country between ports of entry and who are not using things like the CBP-1 app and other lawful means to come to the United States and seek asylum, that those numbers will trend down significantly. That’s the expectation.

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